The Cable

Macedonia’s New Leader Aims to Join the EU and NATO

The Balkan nation is in the middle of a tug-of-war between Russia and the West.


Macedonia is taking steps to settle a long-running argument with Greece in order to restart its bid to join the European Union and NATO. Russia and Serbia are not happy about it.

On Monday, Zoran Zaev, the Balkan state’s new prime minister, traveled to Brussels to tell European leaders that a compromise with Greece to settle a 27-year-old dispute over the use of the name “Macedonia” is in the works. Macedonia’s foreign minister, Nikola Dimitrov, and his Greek counterpart, Nikos Kotzias, are expected to meet in Athens Wednesday.

“I know that if we have friendly relations and a good approach then a solution is feasible,” Zaev told reporters Monday.

Zaev then said he wanted to join both the European Union and NATO in “the shortest possible time.” As a bid to pour some oil on troubled waters, he suggested that his country could participate using the rather clunky name it employs at the United Nations — Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM. Calling the country simply Macedonia puts it at odds with Greece, a country with a northern region of the same name — a region that Athens has long worried Skopje covets. In large part because of the name fight, Greece vetoed Macedonia’s entrance into NATO in 2008.

Now, just after admitting Montenegro, the transatlantic military alliance seems open to Macedonian membership — eventually.

“We want to see your country as part of a stable, democratic, and prosperous region. NATO’s doors are open, we support all aspiring countries,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday, standing beside Zaev. The Macedonian leader is expected to deliver a report on reforms demanded by Brussels Wednesday.

Who’s not thrilled about the prospect of Macedonia joining NATO: Russia, which warns against any additional expansion of the alliance. According to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), Russia has been spreading propaganda to disrupt politics in the Balkan nation for nearly 10 years.

Russian officials have denied the charge. “The claims of the OCCRP, sponsored by the U.S. state funds and George Soros… clearly fit into the frame of anti-Russian hysteria,” retorted the Russian Embassy in Macedonia. (The charges against Russia, however, are not far-fetched: The Kremlin allegedly plotted a coup on the eve of nearby Montenegro’s October 2016 parliamentary elections.)

Macedonia’s neighbor, Serbia, is also none too pleased about Skopje’s westward tack. Belgrade was bombed by NATO in 1999 during the Kosovo War and has nursed a grudge against the alliance ever since. A majority of the countries bordering Serbia — including, most recently, Montenegro — are already NATO members. Macedonia’s ascension raises the possibility that the alliance could encircle the Serbs. Officially, Serbia maintains a policy of military neutrality, but Belgrade has held exercises with Belarus and Russia for the past three years running.

Photo credit: EMMANUEL DUNAND/Getty Images

Noah Buyon is a digital intern.

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